Despite the fact, that a majority of people in Russia belong to the Russian Orthodox Christian faith, Muslims are not considered exotic or alien in the country. Unlike European countries, where Islam was brought in by migrants, in Russia many indigenous peoples professed Islam for centuries and lived side by side with Christians. However, during the Soviet era, all religions were frowned upon. The collapse of communism led to a rapid return to Orthodox Christianity and Islam.
Today there are no reliable statistics about the number of Muslims in Russia. The latest census questionnaires don’t ask a citizen his or her religion. So, the number of Russian Muslims is usually calculated by adding members of all ethnic groups in the country, which are traditionally Muslim, like Tatars, Bashkirs and Chechens. Thus, according to the latest data, there are about 16 to 20 million “ethnic Muslims,” that is 12-15 percent of Russia’s population.
In addition, there are so-called “new Muslims,” people who were non-Muslims, or professing other faiths, and then converted to Islam. “Such cases are pretty rare, but in Russia they get more publicity, than when Muslims convert to Orthodox Christianity,” says Nikolay Silaev, a senior fellow of the Center for the Regional Security and Caucasus Studies. Available data on the number of religious conversions in Russia is not sufficient to indicate a trend, he adds. RBTH interviewed three women chose to convert to Islam.